Rabies is a deadly disease caused by a virus that attacks the nervous system. In Maryland, rabies is found most often in raccoons, skunks, foxes, cats, bats, and groundhogs. Other mammals, including dogs and farm animals, can also get rabies. Rabies is rarely reported in rabbits and small rodents such as squirrels, hamsters, guinea pigs, gerbils, chipmunks, rats, and mice. It is important to remember that an animal with the rabies virus may be able to spread the virus without showing any signs of the disease. Rabies is almost always fatal once symptoms appear.
The rabies virus spreads through the saliva of an infected animal, most commonly through animal-to-animal or animal-to-human bite. Nonbite exposures from animals other than bats (contacts such as petting an infected animal or touching bodily fluids) rarely cause rabies. The virus is inactivated (killed) by heat, sunlight, drying, and common detergents and disinfectants.
Recent human cases of rabies have been caused mostly by bats. Prevent bats from entering your home by using window screens and chimney caps and by closing any opening greater than 1/4 inch by 1/2 inch. Whenever there is a possible human exposure to a bat, the bat should be safely collected, if possible, and tested for rabies.
Bats have small teeth that may not leave obvious marks. Therefore, if the bat is not available for testing, treatment should be considered for people who were in the same room as the bat and who might not know that a bite or direct contact occurred (for example, a sleeping person awakens to find a bat in the room or an adult sees a bat in the room with a previously unattended child, mentally disabled person, or intoxicated person).
Prevention: Immunization is the Key!
Per Code of Maryland Regulations (COMAR) 10.06.02.10, owners or custodians of dogs, cats, and ferrets shall have the animals adequately vaccinated against rabies by the time the animals are 4 months of age. One year later, animals must be given a second shot. After the first two vaccinations, booster doses of vaccine are needed every one to three years, depending on the particular vaccine used. There are also rabies vaccines that are approved for use in horses, cattle, and sheep.
The Allegany County Health Department provides rabies vaccinations during our scheduled clinics one to two times per year. The cost for vaccinations is $5 per animal. When a new clinic is scheduled, it will be posted on the health department web site and on our social media outlets.
Signs and Symptoms:
- Changes in behavior, such as wild animals acting friendly or domestic animals showing aggression.
- Staggering, excessive drooling, or even paralysis.
- Animals that are usually nocturnal may become active during the day.
What to Do If You've Been Bitten/Exposed:
- Wash the wound with soap and lots of water. If available, use a disinfectant (such as povidone-iodine solution) to flush the wound.
- Seek medical attention promptly and be sure to report the bite or exposure to your local animal control agency, health department, or police.
- Rabies in humans is preventable if treated soon after exposure. Treatment consists of a series of four vaccinations given in the arm over a one-month period. In addition, an injection of rabies immune globulin (RIG) is given at the time of the first vaccination; RIG is usually given around the wound.
- If possible, get the name, address, and phone number of the animal's owner and find out if the animal is up-to-date on its rabies shots. If you can't find the owner, remember what the animal looked like.
- If it is safely possible, capture or confine the animal. This will allow the animal to be tested. If the animal must be killed, try not to damage its head.
What to Do If Your Pet Has Been Bitten/Exposed:
- Do not touch the wild or stray animal which caused the bite and avoid touching your pet with bare hands.
- If your pet was in a fight with another domestic pet, get the owner's name, address, and phone number and find out if the animal is up-to-date on its rabies shots.
- Consult your veterinarian and report the incident to your local animal control agency, health department, or police for further recommendations.
- Exposed pets must be quarantined for ten days. This is usually done at home.
For more information on rabies and vaccination clinics, call (301) 759-5038.